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Erie Shore Network at risk

Tom Jackson • May 12, 2014 at 10:03 AM

Terri Krick, of Sandusky, says Erie Shore Network Inc., a local mental health agency, has provided vital support to her struggle with bipolar disorder.

“It serves as a home base for questions I may have” she said. “It lets me know I’m not alone when I’m not feeling well”

Mary Day, another client at Erie Shore, says the agency is helpful when she’s depressed.

“Brenda always has an open ear for anybody who needs to talk,” she said, referring to the agency’s executive director, Brenda Baum.

But Baum and her patients say they are worried the agency won’t be around much longer. They said they’re fighting the provisions of a House bill, backed by the Kasich administration, which would end funding for their agency and similar agencies and direct the funds be used for treatment of opiate addiction.

Erie Shore Network, which describes itself as a nonprofit, consumer-run mental health agency, has existed for 20 years and has an annual budget of about $120,000, which it gets through funding from the Mental Health and Recovery Board of Erie and Ottawa Counties.

Located at 326 E. Market St. in downtown Sandusky, Erie Shore provides a clubhouse atmosphere for clients, who are given help with making difficult calls, completing documents or applying for help with various agencies.

Baum and supporters of Erie Shore, such as Kirk Halliday, executive director of the local Mental Health and Recovery Board,said the agency’s existence is threatened by House Bill 369, which seeks to fund treatment for people with opioid addictions.

The bill’s author, Rep. Robert Sprague, R-Findlay, says the measure would require every county to have a full program for helping people with opioid addictions, including providing treatment and housing.

Funding to help the addicts comes from taking away funding for local mental health programs, and taking decisions out of the hands of local officials, Baum and Halliday said. 

Baum said she questions which mental health patients are being singled out for budget cuts. “It’s no different from pulling from Cancer Services to give to the drug addicts,” she said.

House Bill 369 passed the House 71-20 on April 9 and has gone to the Senate, where the measure is before the Senate Finance Committee. Its provisions have been folded into House Bill 483, which the Senate Finance Committee is holding hearings on, a Senate aide said Wednesday.

State Rep. Chris Redfern, D-Catawba Island; state Rep. Terry Boose, R-Norwalk, and state Rep. Rex Damschroder, R-Fremont, all joined the House majority in voting for the bill on April 9.

Redfern said Wednesday that although he has heard recently from Halliday about the bill, nobody contacted him before that vote to express any concerns. He said as of Wednesday morning, he had not heard from anybody from Erie Shore Network.

“Obviously, it wasn’t the intent of the legislation to zero out funding for mental health services,” Redfern said.

He said he expects the measure to return to the House and promised he’ll vote “No” this time unless concerns about mental health funding are addressed. He said he’s also contacted state Sen. Randy Gardner, Bowling Green.

Like Redfern, Gardner represents Erie and Ottawa counties. He also sits on the Senate Finance Committee.

Gardner said that while there is a lot of concern about dealing with drug abuse, he supports mental health programs.

“There hasn’t even been one hearing yet in the Senate, so there’s time to receive a lot of input from constituents, and to ask questions in the finance committee,” he said. “I will certainly listen carefully to the concerns and arguments made by any constituents on this issue”

Erie Shore supporters plan to take a bus trip to Columbus Tuesday to lobby lawmakers to save the agency.

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